Back to Beckett
11 years ago I finished my cand.philol. in comparative literature with a dissertation on Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy (Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies) and L’innommable (1953: The Unnamable)).
Since then I have read very little Beckett. My reading has trailed other routes. But this autumn, when going deeper into writing, Beckett has suddenly returned – in my own texts. His style, his insisting language full of resistance, denial and absurd humour is here, on my pages, in between my words.
It’s actually rather scaring, because to me Beckett really is a figure one wouldn’t try to imitate. He is all too idiosyncratic and grand to function as a model writer.
But his voice is here even if its not invited. And I must admit, its not very easy to turn a deaf ear to such a voice …
Since I’m writing in Norwegian I can’t give you any examples of my own work. But I can give you a little bit of Beckett. Here’s an excerpt from
Texts for Nothing # 1
Suddenly, no, at last, long last, I couldn’t any more, I couldn’t go on. Someone said, You can’t stay here. I couldn’t stay there and I couldn’t go on. (…) Who are these people anyway? (…) I am down in the hole the centuries have dug, centuries of filthy weather, flat on my face on the dark earth sodden with the creeping saffron waters it slowly drinks. (…) How long have I been here, what a question, I’ve often wondered. And often I could answer, An hour, a month, a year, a century, depending on what I meant by here, an me, and being, and there I never went looking for extravagant meanings, there I never much varied, only the here would sometimes seem to vary. (…) And what I’m doing, all-important, breathing in and out and saying, with words like smoke, I can’t go on, I can’t stay, let’s see what happens next. (…) Sometimes it’s the sea, other times the mountains, often it was the forest, the city, the plain too, I’ve flirted with the plain too, I’ve given myself up for dead all over the place, (…) Yes, I was my father and I was my son, I asked myself questions and answered as best I could,
Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti in Giacometti’s studio, Paris, 1961
A short note on Texts for Nothing (1950-1952)
None of the thirteen “Texts for Nothing” were given titles; they present a variety of voices thrust into the unknown. What one is left with after the Texts for Nothing is a kind of incorporeal consciousness. Unlike the earlier stories, these pieces are no longer completed stories but shards – a continuous unfolding narrative, glimpses at a never to be complete being.
The idea of continuous unfolding is voiced several places in text. Here is an example from no. 4, where the narrator admits stories are not required any more:
There’s my life, why not, it is one, if you like, if you must, I don’t say no, this evening. There has to be one, it seems, once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life, that’s the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.
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Thank you Sigrun. Beckett is a monument. He had an extraordinary command of French and he could see way beneath the surface. He could see the absurd, but the absurd was not that absurd. My best, Micheline
I have only read him in English, but luckily he translated his own texts, so I guess one could say its a kind of original – even if it is translated.
It is a kind of original. In fact, good translations tend to be like originals.
There is something scary about Beckett’s writing itself, don’t you feel? His stories seem to illustrate what it is to live as a nihilist. Here, in these ‘shards’ that you give us, there is no story. The picture is even more bleak in a way. Instead of somebody trying to remain cheerful or hopeful, or at least occupied, we have someone who can neither go nor stay. Dreadful. Brilliant of course (a monument as Micheline Walker says), but scary. I wish I could read your own writing in Norwegian, but I’ll make a bet that it isn’t as bleak as this. Would that be right?
Bleak … ?
I have this character I try to trace, when I first meet her she is stuck on an ice raft in the Arctic.
I suppose one could call it bleak – bleak, desperate … & funny.
I’m not sure, would it be a problem if it was?
That’s interesting … bleak desperate, funny – like much of Beckett.
Certainly not a problem in terms of literature. Maybe it would be as a strategy for living, but that is another question I suppose.
I’m used to writing within an academic tradition with rather strict rules and regulations, having the freedom to experiment with language and not knowing the outcome of my text feels fantastic!
Concerning the question of nihilism, I would actually go as far as to say that this, the written work, is not about my ideology, but about the ideology of the text.
That’s an interesting distinction and a valuable observation, Sigrun. that the work you are composing is not about your ideology but about the ideology of your text. Philosophically interesting and a bit post-modernist, unless I am interpreting your comment wrong.
These days I’m trying to forget all the theory I once read –
but I guess, if I was to make an analysis here, I would agree with you.
Ha! Yes, there are times when leaving theory behind is absolutely the best thing to do!! Especially when one is writing creative work. Keep at it! 🙂